Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writes Page 1 story, “Hard News for Big Easy”

A Page 1 story in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s largest daily newspaper owned by privately held WEHCO Media Inc., details the battle underway over The Times-Picayune‘s abandonment of daily publication.

Reporter Cathy Frye opened her lengthy article describing how the newspaper bonded with New Orleans residents in the aftermath of Katrina:

In a city whose panicked residents felt abandoned and forgotten, The Times-Picayune had now served two purposes.

It spoke to them.

And it spoke for them.

For this reason, Katrina and its aftermath galvanized the relationship readers had with the newspaper.

Many credit The Times-Picayune and its dogged journalism for saving their city.

After the [late May] announcement by the newspaper’s New Jersey owners that The Times-Picayune would appear in print only three days a week, its readers sought to return the favor and save the newspaper.

Frye’s article details the outcry over the announcement by Times-Picayune owner Advance Publications:

[It] prompted a swift and equally angry response from other New Orleanians — not only the newspaper’s readers, but also its advertisers.

Their rising voices were quickly joined by civic leaders, elected officials and business owners throughout the city.

They demanded a daily newspaper. And they scolded The Times-Picayune’s owners for laying off 200 of its employees, many of whom have worked at the newspaper for decades and had become not only household names, but trusted sources of vital information.

Letters to the editor poured in:

“A newspaper is the fabric of our community. Without it, we all just become loose threads.”

“A situation has come to mind about this three-day-a-week paper publishing: I guess I may be pretty cold by the time my obituary hits the paper.”

“How are two old people going to share a 15-inch computer monitor?”

Another fact noted by angry readers: The lack of Internet access for many residents.

A letter by Curry O’Day, 26, who works in technical support for Tulane University, summed it up for many:

“Management needs to step back and let us have our moment, too. This is a sad time, so let us be sad. Don’t tell us that our sadness is misplaced. I work at Tulane, and if I told you we were developing a “more robust” education by firing half of our faculty, you would laugh at me.

“Stop trying to placate us by couching this awful transition in a false positive light. Your readers are smarter than you apparently think we are.”

The article also quotes Polly Watts, owner of The Avenue Pub, which late last month hosted a fundraiser for dashTHIRTYdash, in which she donated 100% of the bar receipts. Watts credited Times-Picayune reporters with “talking” her through the horrors of the aftermath of Katrina.

“What are we going to do next time? Wait for Wolf Blitzer to come in? What those reporters did — it’s irreplaceable. Aside from reporting then, it goes beyond that. They’ve written years of stories about the recovery that were incredibly important to the community.”

And how, [Watts] asks, can Newhouse promise the same strong, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting and photography given the steep cuts being made? “You can’t convince me or anyone else with half a brain cell that covering news is important to you if you slash half your staff.”

The article also extensively quotes Times-Picayune photographer John McCusker:

After The Times-Picayune staff learned who would stay and who would go under the new publishing format, McCusker — who was among those who lost their jobs — threw a party for the newsroom.

And just like when he planned a funeral for his wife, who died from complications from a brain aneurysm more than two years ago, he made sure a brass band was part of the party.

At the beginning of the gathering, the musicians played “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” before moving on to more upbeat songs.

“It’s better to have had this thing we’re losing than to have never had it at all,” Mc-Cusker says. “It’s time to say goodbye. But I didn’t want to say goodbye by myself.”

The entire article is behind a paywall on the website. Click here to be prompted to pay a minimum 99-cent subscription (good for 24 hours) before being allowed to access it.

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